Fri, Jul 25, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Mistaking style for substance

The director of `Confidence,' James Foley is so preoccupied with the image he neglects content


Edward Burns plays the square-jawed Jake Vig in Confidence.


Early in Confidence, Dustin Hoffman, playing a grizzled, jumpy gangster known as the King, gives some rambling lowlife advice to Jake Vig, a smooth young con artist played by Edward Burns. Don't rely too much on style, the King warns, because "style can get you killed." Since the King is the designated heavy, responsible for the death of one of Jake's running partners, his wisdom can be safely disregarded, and in any case we are primed to root for the suave, smirky Jake as he skips across a carefully plotted grid of doublecrosses and narrative zig-zags. But the King's lecture, delivered in his strip-club headquarters as exotic dancers audition in the background, sums up everything wrong with this slick, empty exercise in fast-talking tough-guy attitude.

Confidence, directed in smooth cuts and bright colors by James Foley from a painstakingly idiomatic script by Doug Jung, is so infatuated with the idea of style at the expense of everything else that it manages not to have any of its own.

"Are we playing a con or a rendition of Our Town?" demands Jake's pal Gordo (Paul Giamatti). With some adjustment of literary references, you might pose a similar question. Instead of Thornton Wilder, the dramatist who hovers over this eager high school drama club production is David Mamet (whose Glengarry Glen Ross, Foley brought to the screen). Likewise, despite an allusion to Jack Kerouac, the only novelist anyone involved with this picture seems to have read is Elmore Leonard.

Mamet and Leonard are not necessarily bad models to emulate, but the imitation here, skilful though it may be, is also so slavish and self-congratulatory that there is very little to enjoy, and less to admire. Burns, about to be rubbed out by an exceedingly patient hit man (Morris Chestnut), tells the story in flashback, offering instruction in the method and nomenclature of con-man-ism as if he were conducting a graduate seminar.


Directed by: James Foley

Starring: Edward Burns (Jake Vig), Rachel Weisz (Lily), Andy Garcia (Gunther Butan), Dustin Hoffman (King), Paul Giamatti (Gordo), Donal Logue (Whitworth), Luis Guzman (Manzano), Brian Van Holt (Mile), Franky G (Lupus), Morris Chestnut (Travis ``Butch'') and Robert Forster (Morgan Price)

Running time: 96 minutes

Taiwan Release: today

If Confidence was made by people who have seen too many movies, it seems to be aimed at people who have seen too few. It offers up stale lessons in vocabulary and technique, all of them easily gleaned on a trip to the video store, as if they were choice bits of inside knowledge.

Along with his crew, Jake -- whose last name, at least in the movies, is also loanshark slang for excessive interest -- has lifted, perhaps by accident, some of the King's money. After some negotiation, he agrees to work off the debt by undertaking a scheme to steal an even larger sum from one of the King's rivals (Robert Forster). For this, Jake enlists Lily (Rachel Weisz), a saucy pickpocket, and takes on one of the King's minions, a thug named Lupus (Franky G). There are also a pair of bumbling Los Angeles cops (Luis Guzman and Donal Logue) and an unshaven, sleepy-looking federal agent (Andy Garcia), and by the time you work out who is conning whom you are long past caring.

The problems with Confidence, are summed up by Burns' performance, which is difficult to distinguish from any of his other performances, except that his hair is shorter. The conviction of his own infinite charm and intelligence is apparently so strong that he need never manifest the slightest vulnerability, doubt or complicated emotion anything, in other words, that might be called acting. He is so glib as to make Ben Affleck look like the young Dustin Hoffman.

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